Cell phone snatch & grab - Cops offer VIN etching to protect devices

The Brooklyn Paper
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A variation of an old police tactic could help borough cops fight the ever-rising trend of cell phone robberies among teens.

Police from Bensonhurst to Canarsie have begun offering people an opportunity to have their cell phones registered with their local police department.

Much like VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) etching on cars and bicycles, each phone is marked with a blue light pen and given a special serial number, so if your phone is taken and later found, it can be returned.

The identification number is written not on the phone itself, but on the inside of the battery, officials said. The markings are invisible to the human eye unless it’s run under an ultra-violet light.

Cops hope that the new ID tagging would help curb cell phone thefts, particularly among teenagers, where such robberies are rampant.

“The number of cell phone robberies in our area has come down a bit, but it’s always a problem,” said Captain John Sprague, the commanding officer of the 62nd Precinct in Bensonhurst. Officers from the 62nd Precinct recently registered 300 cell phones from students at New Utrecht High School and Seth Low Junior High School. Cops in neighboring commands are expected to be doing the same before the end of the school year.

If his cops recover a phone with a code number that doesn’t correspond with the person holding the phone, the phone is returned to the appropriate party and the one holding the phone could face charges of criminal possession of stolen property, Sprague explained.

“We shine the black light over every phone that comes into our stationhou­se,” he said. “If it’s lost or stolen, that goes onto the complaint report.”

Most victims of cell phone robberies are teenagers, who have their phones – the hottest item stolen right now being Sidekicks – taken away from them while they are chatting on it or texting friends.

“All of our victims are by themselves and nine out of ten they are using the phone and don’t see the person coming up to them until their phone is snatched out of their hands,” Sprague said. “Some of these kids are so engrossed in their texting and phone calls that they let their guard down. They should always remain aware of their surroundin­gs.”

For the past several months, each precinct has responded to a fair share of cell phone robberies.

“Canarsie is a middle-class community where parents want the best for their kids,” said Captain Milt Marmara, the new commanding officer of the 69th Precinct. “Parents give their kids cell phones so they can keep an eye on them, but unfortunately there are others who want to prey on these kids and take their phones.”

Marmara said that the vast majority of cell phone theft victims are teenage girls.

“The thieves are looking for an easy opportunity,” he said, adding that he, too, hopes that the cell phone registration will be a deterrent.

“It only takes a minute to get your phone registered,” he said. “It could save people a lot of headaches in the future.”

One can find out more about cell phone registrations by calling their local precinct or dialing 311.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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